Monthly Archives: August 2015

Hoshino Coffee

Hoshino Coffee, SangenjayaOn our last full day in Tokyo we decided to explore Sangenjaya, the neighborhood where we stay each time we visit.  We are ashamed to say that we’ve missed out on SO MUCH good stuff! Next time, I’m going to have to remember that there’s more to Sangenjaya than Mister Donut and our hotel street! For the rest of the week, I’ll be sharing some gems from the neighborhood. IMG_3752Hoshino Coffee was one of our final hour discoveries. You can find Hoshino shops all over Japan (and even in Singapore). The Hoshino in Sangenjaya happened to be just three blocks away from our hotel. They are famous for their hand-poured coffees and their soufflé pancakes. I had the Charcoal Roast Coffee. It was STRONG, but really delicious. (It seems like all of the fancy coffee in Japan is strong.)  IMG_3753Naoto ordered a soufflé. To say it was heaven in a ramekin is an understatement. I’ve never tasted something so light and sweet and buttery. The thick chocolate syrup was rich and just bitter enough to balance the sweetness of the soufflé. IMG_3754 IMG_3757The trouble with Japan is that there are just too many good things to eat!

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Kayaba Coffee

IMG_2969Before we enjoyed Hasegawa Happy Hour at the Suzukis, we spent the day together shopping in Asakusa and having lunch and coffee in the Taito Ward of Tokyo. We went to this charming old coffee shop called Kayaba Coffee. Kayaba Coffee signKayaba Coffee building from 1917The building that holds Kayaba was built in 1917 as a house. In 1938 the Kayaba family turned the house into a coffee shop that Mrs. Kayaba and her daughter Sachiko ran for almost 70 years until Sachiko died in 2006. When Sachiko died, Kayaba closed until 2009 when it was renovated and reopened. The outside of the building has remained the same since 1917 and much of the inside–the ambiance, chairs, signage, and china–are true to the past. The chairs are super-short, designed for Japanese people in the 1930s, but they were surprisingly comfortable. (Of course, I’m short, so…)history of Kabaya coffee shopIMG_2920The menu is filled with drawings of the key historical points of the Kayaba building and history, and of the drink and food choices. They offer a huge variety of hot and cold drinks and food. (The egg salad sandwich is crafted to emulate the original recipe. I want to try it the next time we go!) IMG_2924Naoto had a Russian, a classic Kayaba drink made from half hot chocolate and half coffee. It was rich and delicious. IMG_2923I had a matcha latte and it was life-changing. The matcha, the foam, and the subtle sweetness were all perfection. And, it was stunning.

America, we need to up our matcha latte game!

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Hasegawa Happy Hour: Mixology in Tokyo

IMG_3542 Craft cocktails are still a new thing in Tokyo. Most bars are still the izakaya style where copious amounts of beer and simple cocktails are served alongside fried foods, meat, and noodles. There are only a handful of actual cocktail bars in Tokyo, four or five mixologists are paving the way in their own little pockets of the city. I found this article in Time Out Tokyo and added a visit to one of these cocktail bars to our must-do list. IMG_3544We decided to go to Codename Mixology since it’s only a few steps away from Tokyo Station and its wonderfully stocked post office. The cocktails here are developed in a “lab” and using unique combinations and uniquely developed liquors. They offer a whole menu of cheese-infused martinis, foie gras vodka, and gins distilled with hinoki (Japanese cedar), blue cheese, and other unusual flavors. We had read about the Tomato Cocktail and the Tom Yum Cooler in the article and decided to start with those. The tomato cocktail (pictured above) was lovely. It was garnished with drops of olive oil and a dried tomato and had a subtle tomato flavor. The Tom Yum Cooler stole the show though. I’m not a huge fan of Tom Yum soup, but the flavors in the cooler were exploding! Lime, balsamic vinegar, and tamarind–it was at once sweet and savory and tart.

Our bartender, Ohba-san let us taste some of the weird gins and told us about the behind-the-scenes development of the cocktails. IMG_3545 Even though we had planned to drink just one cocktail, we decided to go upstairs to Codename Mixology Laboratory, a prohibition themed speakeasy. Ohba-san walked us upstairs, punched in the code, and introduced us to the bartender upstairs. Everyone else who entered the Laboratory after us knew the code. It felt like a secret society in there! IMG_3547Mixology Laboratory pizzaIMG_3550 IMG_3552 The menu upstairs was very similar to the menu downstairs, but the atmosphere felt more dark and moody. We ordered a pizza–which was so good! One half was Margherita and the other was prosciutto and arugula. We ordered specialized versions of familiar drinks, a Manhattan and I can’t remember what Naoto had. (Sorry!) There was less “showmanship” upstairs, but the presentation of the cocktails was superb. Both of ours were served in pewter goblets with matching coasters.

I made a quick little video so you can hear the music and the quiet chatter at the bar. The 1930s and 40s music really set the tone in the room. IMG_3558IMG_3564After dinner, we ventured back downstairs for another drink. Watching Ohba-san masterfully create these crazy cocktails was well worth the bar tab! IMG_3572 IMG_3574To end the night, I had a Smoked Negroni and Naoto had a Peach Wasabi Martini. (Truth be told, I had ordered the martini, but I liked the Negroni better, so we switched.) At first the Negroni seemed like just an average Negroni, but the smoky finish made it special. And Naoto’s martini was fruity with a slow burn from the wasabi vodka…delicious!

We are looking forward to exploring more craft cocktail bars on our next trip!

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Spending the Yen 8: Ramen Souvenirs

Ramen Souvenirs, Japan, Naoberly Noodle TourWe picked up a few silly treats during our visits to the Ramen Museum and the Cup Noodles Museum. I’m a sucker for a good gift shop and both museums had few offerings but some really fun stuff. I try to get something useful or something we can use up, but I don’t always succeed. Ramen Spoons, vintage ramen shop, Ramen MuseumWe each chose a porcelain ramen spoon at the Ramen Museum. We will most likely use them as soup spoons, but maybe they will inspire us to make ramen at home? They also sold ramen bowls, but spoons took up much less space in our suitcase! Ramen Spoons, vintage ramen shop, Ramen MuseumThe images on the spoons are logos from old Japanese ramen shops. We thought the ramen cart was classic and of course, I chose the ramen chef cat. Naoto in his Ramen Museum t-shirt, Naoberly Noodle Tour, Ramen MuseumNaoto got a ramen t-shirt (he’s sporting it at Mister Donut in the picture above). Hisae told him he looked like an American tourist because Japanese men do not wear t-shirts with pictures on them…I guess that’s why we had to sit in the English-speaking room at Maisen!Cup Noodle note, Cup Noodles stickers, Cup Noodles postcard,  Cup Noodles MuseumThe Cup Noodles Museum had a few paper-y delights for me. Cup Noodles Museum pencil and stickers (2)I picked up a few pencils while I was in Japan this time. The Cup Noodles Museum logo pencil was one of them and I thought these build-your-own-ramen stickers were cute. Cup Noodle postcard, Cup Noodles MuseumThe only postcard the Cup Noodle museum sold was this hologram one. Depending on how you look at it, you can see the cup noodle or a cross-section of the ingredients (top pictures). Cup Noodle note, Cup Noodles MuseumThese little Cup Noodle notes are my favorites. They’re 3-D! Cup Noodle note, Cup Noodles MuseumOn the top, there’s a place to address the note. Cup Noodle note, Cup Noodles MuseumAnd inside, there’s a place for the message. Cup Noodle note, assembledThen, roll it up, tuck in the tab and place the Cup Noodle on the recipient’s desk…a Cup Noodle note cannot be missed! (Just ask Presley. She got her treat last night!)Ramen journal, Ramen log, Naoberly's Noodle TourI purchased this Ramen Log at Loft. I have a failed history with book logs, movie logs, dream logs…pretty much all logs, but for some reason, I was compelled to buy a ramen log. I’m hoping, with the team effort of Naoberly’s Noodle Tour, we can keep up with it. Ramen journal inside pagesl, Ramen log, Naoberly's Noodle TourInside, there pages and pages where you can rate the broth, noodles, and toppings and there’s a place for photos. I’m looking forward to filling up the pages with our past and future ramen stops!

Do you have favorite souvenirs?

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Maisen Tonkatsu MealOne of my favorite meals of our trip was the tonkatsu at Maisen. Maisen is an old and famous restaurant in Omotesando, the same part of Tokyo as the Bunbougu Cafe is in. Naoto’s sister, Hisae, took us there a few years ago and I’ve been dreaming of going back ever since. This time we made it happen.

Tonkatsu is a fried pork cutlet (we had it at home for Christmas dinner once) with a delicious crust of panko breadcrumbs. At Maisen, it is served with miso soup, rice, pickled vegetables, and as much shredded cabbage as you can eat. (There are servers who walk around with giant baskets of cabbage, offering up refills throughout your meal.) I love that the tonkatsu is served on a little metal rack so the cutlet stays crisp until the very last bite. Maisen Tonkatsu SauceAnd the sauce!! The Maisen tonkatsu sauce is like a tangy barbecue sauce and it’s delicious on the pork AND on the cabbage. It’s similar to Bulldog Sauce (which is what we use on tonkatsu at home) but it’s richer and thicker.

The main part of the restaurant is a former bath house dressing room (you can see pictures here) but there are also several other rooms and counters for dining. The first time we ate here, we ate in the main room, which feels very spacious and light with its high ceilings and sky lights. This time, the hostess said something about English speakers and stuck us in what I assume is the part of the restaurant where the servers speak English. (There were other families in the room with English speakers, so I can only assume that’s why we were all sitting together?) The big room had better atmosphere but the food was just as delicious!

Oh, and my favorite silly part of Maisen is…they have a parking lot. It holds two cars. And there is a parking lot attendant. He’s not guarding the cars…Omotesando is a very nice neighborhood.  He just stands there and bows to you as you walk by. Oh, Japan.

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A Day at the Market 

Mobile Post Office at the Oak Park Farmers Market, USPS, post office on wheelsThe mobile post office made it to the Oak Park Farmers Market! Hallelujah!

We got to the market around 10:45am and there were a couple of people in line ahead of us. I was excited to buy a few sheets each of the Summer Harvest stamps and the Coastal Birds postcard stamps, but their credit card machine was “down” and they were out of the postcard stamps. Since I was saving my cash for the farmers market, I only bought one sheet of the Summer Harvest stamps. So, what could have been a $40+ sale ended up being less than $10. (Bummer…) But on a high note, Orlando was working and he’s our old favorite from our Oak Park Post Office days, so it was good to catch up with him. Clearly the USPS made a good decision to have their cheeriest employee working at the market!

There was no special postmark, but they had a table with coloring books for kids and a free bubble mailer for participating in a survey about your experience at the window. I’m interested to hear how the post office fared financially because future participation will depend on Saturday’s sales. I’ll report back when we have our next council meeting in a couple of weeks. IMG_5206IMG_5209After we got our postage stamps, we hopped in the donut line for the famous farmers market donuts, bought a load of Mirai corn, and went home. (And of course, both the donuts and the corn were out of this world!) 

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